Video Verdict: ‘Underworld: Awakening,’ ‘The Vow,’ ‘Chuck: The Complete Fifth and Final Season’

Kate Beckinsale reprises the role of death dealing vampire Selene in “Underworld: Awakening.”

This week’s major home video releases range from a tender romance starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams to a bloody vampire drama featuring Kate Beckinsale.

Underworld: Awakening

1½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong violence and gore, and for some language
Sony
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

With stories about vampires and werewolves more popular than ever, Sony saw fit to deliver a fourth entry to the “Underworld” franchise. Like the previous films, “Awakening” meditates on the complicated, and mostly adversarial, relationship between werewolves and vampires, but with a new twist. As the movie begins, viewers learn that humans have become aware of vampires and werewolves and have mostly succeeded in exterminating them.

Forced underground by human attacks, vampire heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale) attempts to run away with her half-vampire, half-werewolf lover Michael, but she is captured in the process. Years later, Selene escapes from suspended animation only to find that Michael is missing and that she appears to have given birth to a daughter (India Eisley) while in the custody of a medical corporation dedicated to curing the virus that causes vampirism.

Newly freed, Selene attempts to come to terms with what has occurred. She also tries to discover if Michael is still alive, in hopes of reuniting with him. Despite solid special effects and a winning star in Beckinsale, the “Underworld” films have never been great, and “Awakening” is the worst yet. The concept of giving Michael and Selene a daughter is intriguing, but directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein do little with the opportunity.

Rather than focus on what it means for a vampire to have a child in an increasingly dangerous world, the film rapidly devolves into a series of brutal action sequences, as Selene is hunted and forced to defend herself. This may satisfy horror fans who delight in the sight of blood, as “Awakening” is the goriest “Underworld” yet. The movie will not, however, do anything for viewers who like their fantasy movies to possess at least a few shreds of quality plotting.

Beckinsale is a fine actress, a fact that film lovers have come to recognize by watching her other movies. Sadly, “Awakening” asks her to do little more than prance about in tight leather costumes and fire automatic weapons. In other words, she’s too good for the material. Truth told, most actors are too good for this material because “Awakening” is a bad movie even by “Underworld” standards, and the bar isn’t particularly high.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a filmmaker’s commentary track.

The Vow

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are blissfully happy lovers who have their marriage thrown into chaos by a devastating car accident. Although both recover, Paige suffers a brain injury that wipes her memories from the previous five years, including all her time spent with Leo.

Complicating things even more is the fact that Paige was estranged from her family, but she has no memory of the problems that drove her away. So, when she wakes in the hospital, her parents (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill) are all too happy to welcome her to the only life she remembers: one without her husband.

Despite his frustration with the seemingly impossible situation, Leo refuses to give up on his wife, and he essentially decides to court her again. Only this time, he is an outsider, and the new Paige is skeptical about choices she can’t remember making. Directed by Michael Sucsy, the film takes a melodramatic path designed to tug at one’s heartstrings and reinforce the belief that everyone has a soul mate.

The formula is successful to a degree. There’s a lot to like about “The Vow,” but there’s also plenty to critique. Most troubling is the fact that the Paige who recovers from the auto accident is a completely different person than the one who suffered through it. When Leo tells her she was a professional artist, she doesn’t believe it. When she sees her clothes, she doesn’t like them. She even hates her haircut.

Personality changes, of course, could be part of a traumatic brain injury, but Paige’s shift isn’t explained in that light. Rather, viewers are to believe that she has simply reverted to the person she was five years before the accident, and that person is the polar opposite of the free-spirited artist who married Leo. In other words, Sucsy and his team of screenwriters have maximized the conflict for dramatic reasons.

Read about the real-life couple that inspired the film, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, and you will discover that they faced a lot of trials, many of which were distinctly different than those emphasized on screen. Had Sucsy and company stuck closer to reality, “The Vow” may have been less dramatic, but it would have been better.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Sucsy.

Chuck: The Complete Fifth and Final Season

4 stars
Unrated
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

For five years, “Chuck” was one of the most inventive and engaging shows on television, which made it bittersweet when the series finally came to a close in January.

Fans know that, despite the quality writing and outstanding cast, “Chuck” was frequently on the TV-ratings bubble, leaving it just shy of cancelation. So, it was nice to see the production wrap with an honest-to-goodness final episode as opposed to one of the sudden stops TV fans often endure.

Series creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak made the best of the opportunity, crafting one of the most affecting and memorable final episodes in TV history. They achieved this by wrapping up every key plot point… except one. The big, unanswered question was avoided not due to negligence but out of a desire to let viewers craft their own ending, and this seems like the perfect way to close a show that always walked a line between humor, action and drama.

“Chuck” changed a lot during its five-year run but it never got stale. The show started by introducing Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) as an intelligent uber-nerd who becomes a secret agent by accidentally uploading the U.S. government’s most precious secrets to his brain. By the end of the show, he’s a competent spy, yet he retains the simple charm that made viewers love him.

Chuck’s journey is aided by two top-flight CIA operatives, Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin), and the trio make a surprisingly effective espionage unit. Levi, Strahovski and Baldwin are terrific in every episode, but it’s the supporting cast that makes “Chuck” really special. Joshua Gomez, Vik Shay, Scott Krinsky, Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin fully develop every key background player, giving “Chuck” the type of depth you see too rarely on TV.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a gag reel, several featurettes on the making of the show, audio commentaries for the final two episodes, and an extended version of the series finale.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Dark Shadows” – The Complete Original Series: With Johnny Depp and Tim Burton trotting out a movie adaptation of “Dark Shadows” on May 11, MPI Home Video decided it was the perfect time to release the 1960s and ’70s gothic soap on DVD. Fans can now own every episode on an impressive 131-DVD boxed set. The only down side is the hefty suggested retail price: $599.98. Since that will be too steep for many viewers, MPI also has a number of more affordable options, including the single-disc “Greatest Episodes Collection.”

“The Genesis Code”: Faith-based movie about a Christian journalist (Kelsey Sanders) who befriends a star hockey player (Logan Bartholomew) who is going through a personal crisis. Among other things, the athlete is convinced that science disproves the Genesis theory. Together, the characters explore their religious beliefs. Directed by C. Thomas Howell.

“Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie”: Feature-length film written and directed by comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. The plot has Tim and Eric trying to repay a debt they incur after squandering a billion dollars given to them for the purposes of making a movie.

“Love’s Everlasting Courage”: Hallmark Channel drama based on the “Love Comes Softly” book series. The film is set in the early West and focuses on a young husband (Wes Brown) who must raise his daughter alone after his wife dies. Bruce Boxleitner, Julie Mond, Willow Geer and Cheryl Ladd also star.

“The Big C” – The Complete Second Season: Another collection of episodes from the Showtime drama about a suburban wife and mother (Laura Linney) doing her best to cope with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Oliver Platt, John Benjamin Hickey and Gabriel Basso also star.

“Fantasy Island” – The Complete Second Season: Twenty-five episodes of the 1970s and ’80s TV drama about a magical island where guests have their wildest fantasies fulfilled. Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize anchor the regular cast. Season two features many guest appearances, including outings by Sonny Bono, Florence Henderson, Leslie Nielsen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Regis Philbin and Desi Arnaz, Jr.

“Playback”: Horror film starring Christian Slater as a police officer investigating supernatural events that occur after a group of teens unwittingly unleash an evil spirit. Johnny Pacar and Toby Hemingway also star. Written and directed by Michael A. Nickles.

“Dirty Dancing” Collection on Blu-ray: Lionsgate is releasing both the original “Dirty Dancing” and “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” on a two-disc Blu-ray set. Each film comes with an assortment of extras, including deleted scenes.

“Vega$” – The Third Season, Volume One: Twelve episodes of the 1970s and ’80s TV drama about a private investigator (Robert Urich) solving crimes in Sin City.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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